Michigan Tech’s second student-built satellite to launch into space in 2021

Posted: May 6, 2020 / 10:39 PM EDT Updated: May 6, 2020 / 10:40 PM EDT

HOUGHTON, Mich. (WJMN) -— NASA has slated Michigan Technology University’s second student-built satellite for a March 2021 deployment from the International Space Station.

The nanosatellite is called Stratus CubeSat, a thermal infrared telescope that will be used to image atmospheric clouds. The data from Stratus will provide cloud fraction, cloud top wind and cloud top height information that can be used to reconcile climate models.

“The Stratus mission is showing that small satellites can have the capability of larger satellites. So the purpose of Stratus is to go into orbit and take pictures of clouds,” said Matthew Sietsema, chief engineer of the Michigan Tech Aerospace Enterprise. “The idea is that we want to be able to gather pictures that are good enough that we can use them to sort of supplement existing weather models and climate models and use these pictures of clouds to contribute meaningful data to the meteorological field.”

Stratus will be carried to the space station, 200 miles above Earth, in a SpaceX Dragon cargo capsule on a Falcon 9 rocket. The Dragon will dock to the ISS. 

“Stratus will be unloaded by the crew, then placed in the Kibo Module’s airlock, where the Japanese Experiment Module Remote Manipulator System robotic arm will move the satellite into the correct position and deploy it into space,” said Aerospace Enterprise Advisor Brad King.

If Stratus is launched successfully it will be the second orbiting nanosatellite from Michigan Tech. The very first nanosatellite launched into orbit from the university was back in June 2019. The team called it Oculus-ASR and was launched from Cape Canaveral.

Michigan Tech won a nanosatellite competition a few years ago, which allowed it to launch Oculus into space. Michigan Tech beat out many larger schools with aerospace engineering programs, a program that the university doesn’t even have aside from a minor.

Bill Prebedon, the department chair of mechanical engineering at Michigan Tech, said this success is due to the students and Dr. Brad King, the faculty advisor for the Aerospace Enterprise.

“To see that our students can compete with anybody, some schools that have launched, like MIT or Georgia Tech, or Stanford, whereas we are in competition with them. We are now at that level in this aerospace area,” said Prebedon.

With campus closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it has cut the team short of continuing to work on Stratus. However, once campus reopens, system-level testing will take place.

According to Troy Maust, the Michigan Tech Aerospace Team Program Manager, vibration and thermal vacuum testing will be performed when the team can start working on Stratus again. This testing will ensure the spacecraft can withstand the harsh conditions of launch and space.